Wellington Scoop

Putting the boot into public transport


Not content with merely neglecting Wellington’s public transport users, the Greater Wellington Regional Council appears to be pulling out the stops to force commuters out of the buses and trains, and back into cars. In a world where climate change is rapidly becoming a reality and congestion is expected to begin choking the city once Transmission Gully is complete, the council has decided that a fare increase for public transport is the order of the day.

For those following along at home, GWRC have announced that people riding the buses and trains will be expected to find an extra 3 per cent in fares – and if make the mistake of proffering cash, then you’ll have to pay 25 per cent more. At its worst, that $2 bus trip across the CBD will now cost $2.50, and anyone foolish enough to head to Masterton on the train and wanting to pay cash will be stung $19.00 for the privilege.

To state the obvious, this seems like an exercise in perversity. As is clear to even the uninitiated, the simplest and easiest fix for both climate change and congestion alike is to move people from cars to public transport. And the consequences of ignoring this strategy can be seen in Auckland, where the lack of forward thinking in the public transport arena has seen congestion explode – to the point where it’s costing the city billions of dollars a year, primarily because each car averages only 1.1 occupants.

But this, presumably, is the vision that GWRC is aiming for. Instead of providing incentives for people to use the trains and ferries and buses – through better reliability or improved service or lower prices – the Regional Council seems intent on heading in the opposite direction. If they have their way, they will be providing the same-or-worse service for more money, which history tells us is not a recipe for success.

The train service to the Wairarapa is probably the poster child for the paucity of strategic thinking at GWRC. The Wairarapa trains are the worst-run service on the entire public transport network, with travel time reliability hovering around the 64% mark – a full 30% worse than practically every other bus and train in the Wellington region. Some days the service is on time, but far too often it’s not – and the lack of travel time dependability has persisted for years and years, a problem that locals say has been greeted with apathy by GWRC.

What’s the rationale for increasing prices on this under-performing service? As far as we can tell from the Regional Council’s documents, it comes down to one thing and one thing only – because fares haven’t risen since 2013. In other words, the council is exploiting the opportunity to put its hand in commuters’ pockets, and punish them for having the audacity to expect the trains to run on time.

Of course, there are always alternatives to riding the rails – you can take the car. From a climate and congestion point of view, this is the last thing we want to happen. The planet is already frying, and the extra CO2 emissions from people all taking individual vehicles won’t help.

You’d think this might have crossed the minds of the transport planners at the GWRC, but there’s no evidence it has. In the consultation documents, the changes in emissions from the projected 0.8% drop in peak time patronage are unmentioned. The words “climate change” don’t get a look in, and any environmental or health consequences from putting more cars into Wellington’s CBD are of no account.

Which seems slightly odd, given GWRC Chair Chris Laidlaw’s recent media comments. According to a report from Radio NZ:

Greater Wellington Regional Council chair Chris Laidlaw said due to a lack of direction from central government, it was time for local councils to take a lead on planning for climate change. “There is a huge groundswell around this country, demanding action. I get letters from people saying ‘why are you not doing more than you’re doing’. Part of the problem has been something of a disconnect between government and local government.”

If Mr Laidlaw is genuinely concerned about climate change, then the first step might be to get GWRCs own house in order. As we’ve pointed out before, patronage on public transport could be increased tomorrow if the GWRC was prepared to increase subsidies, lower fares and provide some affordable incentives for people to move to the buses and trains. But in the absence of any positive action by GWRC’s transport planners, it’s hard to see the fare increases as anything more than a big step in the wrong direction for the climate.


  1. Michael, 10. August 2017, 16:47

    You have to wonder what on earth is going on.
    First we get told we are having Auckland’s cast off polluting diesel buses and losing our electric trolley buses, and now increased public transport fees.
    Exactly who are the GWRC working for – certainly not the environment.

  2. Steven Molotsky, 10. August 2017, 17:59

    The fare increases alone are not the issue. GWRC has not properly replied to bus drivers’ concerns with the new contract upcoming. It has also not addressed future planning issues when driverless cars and electric cars move in. About the only thing was increasing cash fares more than others. Cash fares bog down passenger on boarding and with all the payment methods available are unnecessary. Making change on a bus is the rotary phone of today.

  3. Thom, 10. August 2017, 19:05

    Has anyone quantified the increase in noise pollution in shifting from trolley buses to diesel? That could have a hugely detrimental impact on how our city feels. Especially for pedestrians and people on bikes.
    Could a legal challenge be mounted to stop the decision to remove trolleys? Could direct protest action be taken to raise awareness of the issue?

  4. Michael, 10. August 2017, 21:53

    @Thom: I live in the inner city and walking along the footpath when five diesel buses go by in a row is awful – the noise and smell is awful and soon we are going to have even more. I have to wonder what this is going to do to the health of those who will exposed to all of these pollutants 24/7, particularly children. I only hope there is a legal challenge/protest against GWRC and their irresponsible decision making.

  5. luke, 10. August 2017, 22:06

    I’ve no problem with cash fares increasing but if we want to migrate people to a more efficient smart card system then those fares should remain at today’s levels for a number of years to create a large enough disincentive to inefficient cash payments.

    Transmission Gully will make motoring more attractive unless there is a corresponding disincentive.

  6. Tony Jansen, 23. August 2017, 13:40

    I live in Thorndon and the increase in noise from the diesel buses is terrible. The pollution is also worrying. So too is the removal of trolley buses which still have many years of life left in them. Wellington is also the only city left in the Southern hemisphere that still has these, so this is a tourist attraction and a point of difference for our city. We used to herald the fact that we were clean and green and environmentally friendly. Well not anymore with these neo liberals running the regional council. Surely we must vote Laidlaw and his tired old mob out at the next elections? Of course by then it will be far too late. As POTUS would say – SAD!!